U17 stars already realising potential

The players that helped Spain retain the U17 title captured the headlines in May but all eight finalists produced great prospects. uefa.com picked out ten to watch and several have already made further breakthroughs.

Thiago scored in the final against France and played as big a part as anyone in Spain's success
Thiago scored in the final against France and played as big a part as anyone in Spain's success ©Sportsfile

Tempting as it would be to name as the selection of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship the Spain players that put on a virtuoso display to beat France 4-0 in the final, all eight contenders in Turkey had prospects that could star on even bigger stages. uefa.com's reporting team in Antalya picked out ten of them at the end of the tournament and several have already gone on to greater things.

Jeroen Zoet (Netherlands)
Netherlands coach Albert Stuivenberg singled goalkeeper Zoet out for praise after his group stage performances, notably in the nerve-jangling 1-0 defeat of Serbia that ultimately booked their semi-final place. There was little he could do about Ángel Martínez's extra-time winner for Spain in the last four but the PSV Eindhoven player obviously learned well having been an unused squad member in the finals the year before. He recently signed a new PSV Eindhoven contract running until 2012 and will train with the first team from January.

Philippe Koch (Switzerland)
Switzerland found life tough in the finals but did beat the Republic of Ireland 1-0 with an own goal and their defence came into their own late on in that game. Goalkeeper René Borkovic and full-back Fabio Daprelà both performed excellently but FC Zürich prospect Koch worked hard in the centre of defence to keep Ireland out not least with his aerial strength. In August he made his UEFA Cup debut for Zürich.

Pulido (Spain)
Spain's attacking players naturally caught the eye but there was ability throughout the squad and Club Atlético de Madrid defender Pulido helped keep things tight at the back when the flair men roved forward. He did not take part in qualifying but did not miss a second of the finals – also chipping in with crucial equalisers against France in the group stage and in the last-four encounter with the Netherlands.

Abdülkadir Kayalı (Turkey)
Turkey's captain had already played in the Süper Lig for MKE Ankaragücü and brought a mature approach to the hosts' midfield. Given a trial by Manchester City FC but then too young to sign, Abdülkadir bolstered his reputation even further with the clever long-range strike that looked like taking Turkey into the final until France's late equaliser. Chelsea FC and Fenerbahçe SK are now in competition with City for his signature.

Conor Hourihane (Republic of Ireland)
Ireland were defeated three times but gave all their opponents good games, and had Sunderland AFC midfielder Hourihane, so impressive in qualifying, not been absent in the opener against France they may have averted the last-gasp loss. A fine all-round player, Hourihane worked hard in the narrow defeat by Switzerland and shot Ireland ahead against Spain.

John Fleck (Scotland)
Scotland did not score in the finals but their main playmaker showed more than a few glimpses of why he has risen up the ranks so quickly at his uncle Robert's old club, Rangers FC. The captain, by coach Ross Mathie's own admission, had a lot of pressure as Scotland's recognised star but he showed leadership skills against the toughest opponents of his career. After returning home in May he was a late substitute in Rangers' 3-2 Scottish Cup final win against Queen of the South FC.

Keko (Spain)
Atlético winger Keko perhaps had been outshone by Thiago, Sergi and Rubén prior to the final but in the decider against France the player also known as Sergio Gontán was stunning, showing off a wide range of skills in between scoring the first goal and making two more in the 4-0 victory. In October he became Atlético's youngest-ever debutant, still aged 16, in a Copa del Rey win at Orihuela CF.

Thiago (Spain)
If Keko was the star of the final, Thiago was probably Spain's greatest inspiration over the course of the tournament, the FC Barcelona midfielder scoring the first and third equalisers with two superb free-kicks in the 3-3 group draw with France, converting a penalty against the same team in the final, and producing runs and passes that has seen him compared to club-mate Lionel Messi; indeed he has a South American link as the son of Brazil's 1994 FIFA World Cup winner Mazinho.

Danijel Aleksić (Serbia)
Along with the Netherlands' Geoffrey Castillion, Danijel Aleksić was joint-top goalscorer over the course of the U17 with nine goals, including five in the Elite round and both in the opening 2-0 defeat of Scotland, the first a stunning bicycle kick on the stroke of half-time. He was unlucky not to add to that tally as Serbia missed out on the semi-finals but Aleksić is already in the goals for league high-flyers FK Vojvodina, for whom he made his debut five days after his 16th birthday last year. He began 2008/09 with several UEFA Cup appearances and a late goal in a 2-0 defeat of FK Crvena Zvezda, and made his senior debut for Serbia on 14 December in a friendly in Poland.

Yannis Tafer (France)
Prior to the final France had produced a string of fine displays thanks to the attacking zeal of Gaël Kakuta, Clément Grenier, super sub Alexandre Lacazette and Tafer, whose four goals were the best tally of the final. Mentored at Olympique Lyonnais by Karim Benzema, Tafer's positioning and finishing in the group stage was first rate.

Selected by Yakir Mizrahi & Paul Saffer

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